If You Build It, They Will Come: Camping in NYC

The New York Harbor area, in many ways the hub of New York City and Northern New Jersey, is a renowned destination for its culture, history, and vibrant lifestyle. It also has a treasure trove of iconic parks and historic sites—Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Liberty State Park, Jamaica Bay.


A 2007 photo by Mark Williams looking east at Floyd Bennett Field. (Credit: members.tripod.com)

The National Park Service plans to harness the tremendous potential of these special places by linking them more closely to each other and to the living fabric of the community.


According to a newly released vision statement the National Park Service “will coordinate the talents, resources, and constituencies of these community resources, thereby elevating the connections, relevancy, and support for the entire 57,800 acres managed here between the National Park Service and the New York and New Jersey departments of parks and recreation.”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recently announced that the National Park Service will develop the largest urban campground in America at Floyd Bennett Field, an historic airfield and recreational park on Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn.

“We want to make New York the leading example of what we can do around the country with urban parks,” Salazar said.

Floyd Bennett Field was the city’s first municipal airport but is essentially unused for aviation, except for police helicopters. It has been managed by the park service since 1972 as part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.


The Sandy Hook Gateway National Recreation Area is a slender peninsula that goes 6.5 miles into New York Harbor and covers 1665 acres. (Credit: endangerednj)

Over a two-year period beginning in 2011, the campground will expand from 5 to 90 sites, including “both traditional campsites and RV sites”. The campground may ultimately contain 600 sites.


Special outreach to underserved communities around the area will introduce families to camping skills and equipment in their home neighborhoods and will facilitate participation in overnight use, complete with campfire programs, kayaking, and swimming opportunities.

Salazar said the park service will work with local agencies in New York and New Jersey to link existing waterfront parks through a New York Harbor trail and greenway network.

The park service currently operates more than 26,000 acres of natural and historic properties, including the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, in the New York region; the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation manages approximately 29,000 acres of land for parks and recreation. The New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry manages 2,800 prime acres near the Harbor. Numerous other private or public entities manage yet more spaces.


Jamaica Bay is a saline to brackish, eutrophic (nutrient-rich) estuary. (Credit: maps.thefullwiki.org)

The largest contiguous open-space in the area is Gateway National Recreation Area’s Jamaica Bay; the most well-known and accessible is the city’s Central Park. These combined 57,800 acres in dozens of places, despite their proximity and shared constituency, are not managed in a deliberate, complementary manner.


Floyd Bennett Field

A point of departure for record-breaking flights of famous aviators, including Amelia Earhart and Howard Hughes, Floyd Bennett Field opened in 1931 as New York’s first municipal airport. This storied area is now open to the public. It offers visitors the chance to learn about the history of aviation and escape from the nearby hustle of the city.

Floyd Bennett Field was built originally on Barren Island in Jamaica Bay, and was later connected to the mainland with landfill under the guidance of Robert Moses. The airfield was named for naval aviator and Brooklyn resident Floyd Bennett, who was the first person to fly over the North Pole. After serving as the city’s municipal airport, Floyd Bennett Field was converted to a Naval Air Station in 1941. It was the most active airport in the United States during World War II, and it has an important place in the history of military aviation.

The Ryan Visitor Center located in the historic control tower and terminal is currently closed for renovations.


Location: 50 Aviator Road, Brooklyn

Directions: Take Belt Parkway to Exit 11S, then Flatbush Ave south to the main entrance.

Note: Also accessible by subway or bus

Worth Pondering…

If you build it, he will come.

—Shoeless Joe to Ray, in Fields of Dreams

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